Derailed Reforms in Irrigation Sector

Derailed Reforms in Irrigation Sector

Engr. Naseer Memon

Pakistan possesses one of the world largest irrigation networks both in terms of physical infrastructure and the quantity of water supposedly being managed. Modern barrage irrigation was introduced in British rule, which required productive colonies to feed their armies and masses. After partition this legacy was transferred to both Pakistan and India according to their respective jurisdictions. As a result of it Pakistan emerged as a country with an agro-based economy. Extent of economic reliance on agriculture is so deep and wide that the country invariably needs an all time well maintained and efficient irrigation system. It does not require a deal of wisdom to understand that an efficient irrigation system is deeply dependent on a parallel running efficient drainage system. Highly permeable alluvial soil base of Indus Basin irrigation planes can not sustain its productivity without an efficient drainage system. It becomes even more necessary when irrigation system gets badly managed and agriculture practices get obsolete coupled with poor extension services. Over the years irrigation system developed serious snags; canals were not operated according to their design, illegal/tempered outlets became common, de-silting became a rare scene and farmers applied water without scientific knowledge of crop, climate and soil. All these ills took hardly few decades to deteriorate once glorious irrigation system of the country. Today we have 37.5% waterlogged Gross Cultivated Area (GCA) and the water logging and salinity are believed to be responsible for 25% reduction in crop productivity.

Sindh being located at the lowest end of the Indus Basin, is the worst hit. More than half of the waterlogged and salinity affected land of Pakistan is located in Sindh province. In Sindh the first barrage was constructed at Sukkur in 1932, which is one of the largest irrigation structure built by English engineers, with a design capacity of 1.2 million cusecs, followed by Kotri (1956) and Guddu (1963) barrages. In total Sindh province has 14 canals and more than 40,000 water courses to command approx. 13 million acres of land. It is strange to note that the system designers kept constructing barrages and canals without giving an early seriousness to drainage. Lack of proper drainage has played havoc with rural economy where more than 30% cultivable land is saline and about 43% is waterlogged. Unfortunately the curative measures only worsened the disease due to variety of reasons ranging from bad design to massive corruption and bleak inefficiencies. Early drainage projects were initiated in the beginning of 70s. However it was only in the early 80s that the major intervention Left Bank Outfall Drainage (LBOD) project came at the drawing board.

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Over the period drainage was recognized as a major need of the system throughout Indus Basin. In 1998 Government embarked upon a huge National Drainage Program of 785 million US$. Two third of this investment was to be financed through donor loans mainly by World Bank (36%), ADB (18%) and OECF-Japan (13%). The project commenced from 1st Jan 98 and was supposed to finish by Dec 2004. According to the Staff Appraisal Report (The World Bank document 15310-PK, Page No. 13-17) the project had the following components.

• Sector Planning and Research (25.7 million US$)

• Institutional Reforms (57.7 million US$)

• Investments (683.1 million US$)

Now eight years down the road NDP has become a laboratory of learning stuff and very little could be translated into action. All the novel ideas envisaged in the Staff Appraisal Report are almost evaporated and things are in the state of the art anarchy. Our system demonstrated yet another evidence of our institutional incompetence and decayed governance structure at all levels. Considering the usual delay in implementation, the Federal Government extended the program for another 2 years till Dec 2006. On the request of GoP, two donors viz. ADB and JBIC also extended their funding till Dec 2006, however the major donor World Bank did not extend its financing. Since the World Bank was mainly financing Sindh portfolio therefore NDP in Sindh came at a virtual halt after Dec 2004. Ironically it was Sindh which took lead in Institutional Reforms and was at the forefront of NDP yet it was made to suffer due to discontinuity of World Bank finances. Sudden stoppage of funds left Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) in dilemma. More than these two organizations it crippled the overall process of participatory management since formation of Farmers Organizations and their capacity building process was also stopped. Let us see what happened with the reforms champion Sindh province in each component of NDP.

Institutional Reforms: Although the participation and decentralized management were the founding pillars of NDP, yet its internal structure was highly centralized and the Lahore based Central Cell has been exercising lot of authority on various accounts. For decentralization of Irrigation department provincial Irrigation and Drainage Authorities were formed. In Sindh, the SIDA was created as a part of institutional reforms under NDP, before the actual launch of the program. SIDA was not a welcome body within the irrigation department, which was supposed to be transformed into SIDA. The bureaucracy within Irrigation department never owned these reforms for several reasons. Water bureaucracy in Sindh has time and again proved its inefficiencies and corrupt culture. In fact Sindh Irrigation Department has been chiefly responsible for dilapidated infrastructure and non-judicious water distribution in Sindh. A part of credit for water crisis in Sindh also goes to the department. In order to protect their water-empire, the water bureaucracy of Sindh in connivance with anti-reform waderacracy undermined the reforms process. In April 2004 Sindh Government appointed

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a retired Chief Engineer of Irrigation department as MD of SIDA. During his tenure reforms process was virtually caped and not a single farmer organization was formed during the period although a budget of Rs. 20 million was available for the purpose. However at the same time Investment component was not that much interrupted for the obvious reason. Interestingly the MD was not appointed through SIDA Board as per prescribed transparent and merit based process; he landed through an executive order from the top notch of Sindh Government. The gentleman was not only allowed to complete his tenure but in recognition of his services for reforms he was also given a three months extension to get more benefit from his presence. The story does not end here; a new MD has been again brought from Irrigation department with currently a dual charge in hand. The gentle man is a Chief Engineer of Kotri barrage, with obvious working priorities if he has to choose between IPD and SIDA. One can easily gauge the degree of commitment for reforms from these steps. According to NDP legal documents and Sindh Water Management Ordinance 2002, the MD for SIDA has to be hired from open market through a competitive and transparent process but Sindh Government has been continuously violating this part of commitment. At one stage The World Bank also expressed their concern on such MDs and asked GoS to recruit a fulltime MD, but of no avail. During the six year life of the project, 8 MDs occupied the chair with only one from the open market and competitive process who was also forced to quit since he was inclined towards reforms; the least desired agenda of the SIDA.

In spite of all these barriers, reforms in Sindh made a major headway but certain “powers” did not want to make this transition effective and World Bank supply line was disconnected in 2004 only to hit the last nail in the coffin of reforms in Irrigation department. It is also ironic that World Bank it self has been appreciating the reforms progress in sindh, yet the funding was discontinued after the expiry of the funding period. World Bank Portfolio Review Meeting (Dec 2003), The World Bank Implementation Review Mission (March 2004) and the Meeting of Bank’s country portfolio (April 2004) in their notes clearly appreciated progress of Sindh in reforms and overall program of NDP, however all this could not convince the decision makers in the World Bank to continue funding for Sindh province. This also reflects on the seriousness of donors for reforms agenda. It does not require too much wisdom to understand that had the World Bank wanted to make reforms a reality; they would have continued their funding to Sindh. Cutting the long story short, SIDA is now degenerated into a cosmetic reform body with completely de-motivated staff working without salaries for 8 months. SIDA vehicles are being used by “power lords” within and outside the department and staff does not have budget to even purchase pen and paper.

According to the Staff Appraisal Report of the project, Institutional Reforms component has two sub components focusing on reforms in Water Wing of WAPDA and Provincial Irrigation Departments (PIDs). Interestingly reforms for WAPDA Water Wing had higher allocations of $ 31.4 million against $ 26.3 million for PIDs. Yet hardly any reforms are reported in WAPDA. Like

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PIDs, WAPDA authorities were also reluctant to implement reforms. Comparatively PIDs took some reform initiatives but there is no knowledge about any reforms in WAPDA, which probably needs more serious reforms. Hence WAPDA continued with the same structure and operational practices.

Investments: Discontinuation of finances not only hampered institutional reforms but also brought investment component at halt, which was meant for construction and overhauling of the drainage infrastructure. Again the Sindh Government bureaucracy made the mess. Knowing that World Bank has stopped funding, the Federal Government mobilized alternate funding line for the ongoing and pending schemes. The decision was taken in January 2005 and all provinces were asked to redeploy Engineering, Design and Supervision (EDS) consultants to continue the investment component. Responding to which Punjab and NWFP governments immediately redeployed their respective EDS; however SIDA remained adamant to take a long route of repeating the whole process of hiring. Knowing that very little time is left and many schemes are incomplete waiting for the release of funds the rational approach would have been to hire competent EDS through single sourcing. However it was not done as of now. This was in spite of SIDA’s commitment of hiring EDS at various important forums including the Prime Minster Monitoring and Evaluation Committee meeting held in Dec 2005 in Karachi. This clearly indicates the lack of will to make SIDA an effective body to implement the reforms program in Irrigation sector. Under alternate funding Sindh has been provided Rs. 1,396 million to carry forward the investment component by Dec 2006. One can easily guess that the bigger portion of this amount is bound to go unutilized since only 10 months are left and process of approving and implementing schemes is too cumbersome. Currently 7 schemes of investment component in Sindh are waiting for about 121 million rupees to get completed. Likewise 8 other schemes could not takeoff due to want of 1134 million rupees. No one knows what will be the fate of these schemes and overall reforms after the expiry of the revised timeline. Interestingly whatever money was utilized in the Investments component was also mainly used for off-farm projects thus making little contribution towards farmers’ participation through on-farm investments.

Finance Department of Sindh Government is also among the responsible factor for this delay. Under the alternate funding arrangement Sindh Government was supposed to fund Rs. 70 million through its annual development plan for 2005-06. However the Finance Department declined to release the fund on ground of not having clear decision from Federal Government on extension of NDP till 2006 end. It is strange to note that the Finance Department did not recognize the fact that NDP is an umbrella program and two other provinces already extended their resources for the continuation of the program. Had there been any procedural barriers how other provinces would have released funding for continuation of their programs. Hence blockade of funding on this pretext resulted in complete stoppage of all NDP activities in Sindh from July 2005, not even the release of salary for SIDA staff till today. The issue was taken at the highest level

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before the Prime Minister’s Monitoring Committee’s meeting held in Karachi held in Dec 2005. Finance Department committed to release funds within a day and they were also conveyed the decision of ECNEC on extension of NDP yet the fund release orders came about three weeks later. Hence the Finance Department and SIDA masters both contributed generously towards undermining of reforms. In past attitude towards reforms component was obvious from the fact that any reforms related scheme if luckily gone through the PWDP, would take 8-12 months to get funds released, manly due to unholy alliances operating behind the scene. It is also important to note that the donor did not make any significant intervention to streamline the NDP matters, except issuing advises to the government and remained a silent spectator, watching the whole mess outside the fences.

Research: This sub component was part of Sector Planning and Research component with an allocation of Rs. 15.3 million. It is a well established fact that Sindh has been the worst victim of drainage related problems and NDP documents repeatedly recognized this fact. Not only the physical issues of water distribution, water logging and salinity are more prevalent in Sindh but the overall institutional mess is also more concentrated in Sindh. Logically a better part of Research should have been spent in Sindh but practically a very small part of research was carried out in Sindh context. The list of research projects shows that very little research support went in Sindh and bulk of the projects went to Punjab based and Federal Government institutions mostly associated with WAPDA. Staff Appraisal Report of NDP (PAGE-8) also refers to the need of National Surface Drainage System (NSDS) for ultimate disposal of drainage effluent to sea through Sindh province. Failure of LBOD and RBOD disposal mechanisms has underlined the environmental sensitivities associated with the proposed NSDS. Sindh being at the lowest end of Indus Basin is being considered as conduit for the drainage for upcountry, its environmental consequences could be horrible considering the institutional in-efficiencies prevalent in the country. It would have been pertinent to dedicate a significant portion of research component on studying long term likely environmental impacts of the proposed NSDS on Sindh. Since Sindh has been taking lead in reforms so there is a dire need of understanding social aspects of participatory irrigation and drainage management, which is being practiced first time at such scale. Strangely no significant social research was conducted in Sindh on participatory management aspects, which is supposed to be the paradigm of all future irrigation management. A major reason for this neglect was that the research component was being managed directly from the central cell of NDP in Lahore and provincial cells had very little role in decision making in research related matters. Provinces had representation on Research Advisory Committee but strictly speaking it was only an advisory committee and not a decision making forum. Even that representation was not fair; for example a Sindh based Institute Drainage Research Centre (DRC) was given representation but the person who would sit on behalf of DRC was not from Sindh and his representation was justified on grounds of his association with the apex body of DRC. Some of the NDP officials assert that they did not

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receive good quality research proposals from Sindh but that excuse carries little weight since the Staff Appraisal Report also mentions a provision of capacity building of research institutes for the very purpose Describing the Research component on page-13, the document refers to provision of grants to prepare proposals of major research. However the central cell of NDP never played a role of facilitation for developing research capacity in Sindh, which deserved a significant portion in the research component.

Public Information: Since the whole NDP was premised on the basis of making water management participatory; a most important aspect was making information available to the targeted beneficiaries. A wide range of steps were committed under NDP to ensure that stakeholders are abreast with all progress taking place inside NDP. Without access to information, there is no concept of participatory approach. Staff Appraisal Report of NDP also describes mechanism for information sharing with stakeholders. Annex.7 carries a brief note on “Public Information Centre and Library”. Under this part it was committed that WAPDA Water Wing would establish and maintain a Public Information Centre and Library” in its Lahore based and all Regional offices and in addition to that all other public access offices such as PIDAs, Area Water Boards etc. Regrettably no such arrangement was made under NDP. If any such thing ever existed it must have been accessible to every one except the public. Farmers, who were supposed to get maximum benefit from the revolutionary reforms, hardly got any access to information on NDP. I don’t remember if any Aid Memoir of the donor missions was ever made public to let people know what is happening with the billion of rupees borrowed in their names. No periodical reports or other material ever reached masses. How one can expect participatory environment if such was the attitude towards the basic ingredient of participation i.e. access to information. Here we can not imagine discussing the more sophisticated arrangements of information sharing committed under “Project Information System” (Article 51, Annex.7). The fantasy shared in this parts tell establishment of “Water Sector Information System” and “Project Financial Accounting and Management System”. Project completed its life but no public statement was issued to tell people what eventually the project achieved and why some promised dreams could not come true. Champions of participatory approach the World Bank and ADP did not bother to issue a one line project closing statement for public information. Every thing happened behind the close doors and masses were kept ignorant as usual.

National Drainage Program is now moving towards its final stages and very soon its managers will call it a day. This is high time for all stakeholders, specially the donors to take an honest stock of the program. The least one should do is to establish the factors responsible for less than expected rewards against the huge investment. The donors should at least incorporate this learning in their other programs of similar nature in other sectors. A special reference could be the failure of attempted Institutional Reforms since some of the donors of NDP are also proposing and implementing institutional reforms in some other sectors in Pakistan. Beyond that a more fundamental

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question need to be probed that are our institutions able to undertake mega commitments. Time and again it has been transpired that unfortunately our institutions like WAPDA are not capable enough to entrust large-scale projects, particularly those which involve highly sensitive social and environmental dimensions. These institutions might be very fast in building structures and spending money but they have minimal capacity to ensure equitable benefits of projects to all segments of country. Complex projects like large scale drains and dams need more competent systems to address the complex matrix of stakeholders. It requires not merely the engineering excellence but the heart of success lies in objective decision making and a genuine consideration for potential affectees of the mega projects.

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